Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"My Budget Invests In People"


Covering icy weather in Arkansas, I listened to Governor Jay Nixon's first State of the State address on the radio in a news car on a slick Highway 65. (Read Nixon's entire speech and Watch how KY3 News @ 10 played it briefly, buried in weather coverage, HERE.) The first impression I got from the speech is that it seemed well-delivered, in part because Nixon spoke slower (than he usually does) during important points.

Secondly, it was striking how centrist, pragmatic and dare I say Republicany, it seemed? Some Democrats may argue with the way I'm pegging the ideology, but the words/phrases used in the speech are many of the words Matt Blunt used to make his case. "We must help small businesses grow . . . We believe in fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets . . .The Quality Jobs Act has worked . . . That's why my budget provides full funding for ethanol and bio-fuels . . . We won't raise taxes . . .We are embarking on an unprecedented initiative to make government leaner and more efficient . . .I will appoint a Taxpayer Protection Commission . . ." I could go on . . .

The most controversial plank of Nixon's budget was left for the latter end of the speech. His new budget would expand healthcare coverage to 62,000 more Missourians; 35,000 adults and 27,000 children. He acknowledged he'll need federal money to do this. But the Associated Press quotes House Speaker Ron Richard with the reaction of the night: "Expand Medicaid? We're not going to do that."

The other big news in the speech was Nixon's big cuts: eliminating about 1300 state employees, and cutting 50 state programs. "Many bureaucratic positions will be consolidated or eliminated altogether. Hundreds of additional positions that are currently unoccupied will not be filled," Nixon said.

Though it's clear Nixon wants Elementary and Secondary administrators to tighten their staffing belts, most educators are probably happy. But one proposed cut that will grab their attention --- a 17 percent cut for the state's "virtual school program" that provides online courses for K thru 12 students.

There was no mention of the looming issue of transportation funding in his address.

The Republican Party's top leader in Missouri responded, and these seem to be Lt. Gov Peter Kinder's biggest points of contention:
  • "Our Republican legislators are leading the effort to expand Missouri’s Quality Jobs Act to attract more business to our state. The folks at the Missouri Department of Economic Development are the ones tasked with finding new, innovative ways to brings jobs to our communities. But tonight, the Governor has cut over $23 million from that department. That’s $23 million being taken from future jobs and businesses in Missouri," Kinder said.
  • "Tonight, the Governor has cut nearly $24 million from the Department of Mental Health; over $7 million from services targeted for developmentally disabled adults. And he has proposed dramatic staffing cuts at mental health centers in our state. We respectfully oppose these cuts," Kinder added.
  • Kinder also takes issue with "cuts" or "withholds" from education and law enforcement.
  • But then he hits Nixon for depending on the federal stimulus to pay for some of his promises. The Governor has proposed a state budget built around the hope of federal stimulus dollars.

    "What if these dollars don’t arrive? What if we don’t get nearly as much as expected? Can we really spend our way back to prosperity?," Kinder said. Then our entire budget would have been written on a bad check. A budget based on a one time bailout is NO long-term plan. We need an enduring vision for our state’s economy, not a budget propped up on debt that will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren."

Mo. Budget Project: “Restoring access to Medicaid for families with incomes under 50 percent of the poverty level is a good first step and a critical investment for Missouri’s future. Additional funding for outreach to enroll children who are currently eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP is also a critical investment for our state," said Executive Director Amy Blouin. "Our state should focus on policies that stimulate economic growth, including creating a State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and expanding access to Child Care Assistance," she added.
Mo. United For Life:
"For the first time in years, a Missouri governor delivered a state of the state address that did not discuss the importance of protecting the sanctity of human life. Governor Nixon discussed many other issues that he believes to be priorities, but protecting innocent life and helping expectant mothers choose life are obviously not part of his agenda," said Missourians United for Life's President Ed Martin.

No comments: